Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Lightminded provocation

As part of his response to a post by Mick Hartley, Norm writes the following:
"I'm aware I've been writing a fair bit on religion lately, and it isn't for the first time. How come? Well, as everyone's noticed, there's a certain amount of fanatical religion around today, some of it of murderous inclination. It is important to combat this, to argue for the values of tolerance and secularism and a pluralist democratic society. I hope the overall political alignment of this blog has been such as to emphasize those priorities. But I do not think they are well served, and neither is the argument against fanatical religion, by a stance of mockery towards the religious, whether fanatical or not, of denial that religious doctrine and teachings could have any value whatsover, and of the temptation to deny also - what is patently true - that countless people have been brought by their religious beliefs to act well towards others and to try to lessen some of the miseries of human existence. As a confirmed atheist, I find it dismaying when those on the same side as I am, loosely speaking, discredit our case by the addition to it of lightminded provocation."
I reproduce this with the observation that the best writing is often that which says what you already think, only better than you could yourself.

I'd intended to include the following in a post I'm doing about Hitchens's, "God is not great", but I feel the need to get it off my chest now.

When I was studying for my PGCE, I took an elective module on Holocaust Studies. Our tutor arranged for us a speaker who was a rabbi and Holocaust survivor. During the course of his talk, he referred to his understanding of God, how the experience of Auschwitz had changed it but how he still believed. Our tutor, a strongly atheist Jew, didn't agree with this but said nothing. Because what can one say? Introduce him to the theodicy problem in a here's something you haven't thought of sort of way? Can there be any serious doubt that the only appropriate response here is to shut your mouth and show some respect? Because when we talk about respect, it isn't about respecting what people believe - just the people themselves and the space in their souls that is common to all mankind where we do our best to make sense of things. What goes on in this space, one could add, is often governed - not by what is or isn't true - but what we can and cannot bear.

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